End of an era: Final page for Wichman after 50 years of service

May 20—A long-time Daviess County firefighter is hanging up his turn-out gear for good.

After 50 years of answering the call, former Washington Township Fire Chief Tony Wichman responded to his final page.

"We knew it was coming. He had had some health issues and had decided 50 years was long enough. Thursday marked the 50th year to the day of when he was sworn in," said current Washington Township Volunteer Fire Chief David Gray. "He's been a mentor for me and a lot of other people. He has been an instructor. A lot of guys in other departments have learned from him. He was a civic leader, a commissioner for several years, and he devoted his time to the people of Daviess County."

Washington Township Trustee Michelle Guy said Wichman has one of the biggest servant's hearts.

"Tony has one of the biggest civil servant hearts I have ever known in my life. I think a lot of Tony. It is a hard loss for the fire department because that is a lot of knowledge going out the door," said Guy.

Wichman says that while his head still wants to answer the fire bell, his body has decided to put him on the sidelines.

"I didn't want to," he said. "My health made it necessary. I can no longer move my feet very well and I am afraid it was becoming dangerous for me and anyone else I was responding with. I got my gold card for my 50 years and I retired."

Wichman calls being a volunteer firefighter something that naturally called to him.

"The best part of those 50 years was just helping people who needed help. Just part of my nature as a homegrown farm boy. If somebody was broken down and needed help you, just jump in and help them. Working as a volunteer firefighter just seemed natural," he said. "The thing I will miss the most is the comradery. It was always 80% work and 20% excitement."

Washington Township is one of the larger volunteer fire departments in southern Indiana and Wichman spent 27 years as chief helping to build it.

"When I joined, they had one truck and we were in the process of adding a tanker," he said. "We've changed a lot since the early days. We have seven trucks and two stations. It is a far cry from where we started."

Not only has the department grown in equipment, it has also grown in manpower, and officials say that is also part of Wichman's legacy.

"He trained a lot of men and they respect him a lot," said Guy. "He is just a huge wealth of knowledge. We have accomplished a lot together. He taught me so much. I cried when he retired."

"I am going to miss him. Most volunteer firemen work during the day but Tony was always one you could count on answering the call, and you could count on him to answer that call 24-7," said Gray. "Everyone knows him. He is a rare breed. I'd like to have more like him. They just don't come along like him very often."

Even as he puts one foot out the door toward his retirement, Wichman makes one final appeal for others to answer the call.

"We still need people who are committed to the community. It is more difficult to become a volunteer fire fighter now. It requires 140 hours of training," he said.